Restoring the Chatham Orpheum Theater

Chatham Orpheum in 1916, from Cape Cod Online

There is something wonderfully magical about seeing movies flickering across the big screen. That magic is many times amplified if you’re lucky enough to watch the movie in one of the few remaining old movie theaters still in operation in the US. An old movie theater bestows a unique atmosphere and sense of history that can transport you back through time to the golden age of Hollywood and film.

Chatham Orpheum today, photograph by Merrily Cassidy of Cape Cod Times

So it’s heartening to see that there is a team set on restoring the old Chatham Orpheum Theater on Cape Cod back to a working movie house. The theater originally opened in 1916 and was packed every night with locals and vacationers waiting to see any one of the major silent movies of the time. In the late Twenties, the theater was completely renovated to allow it to show the high-tech “Talkies” that had revolutionized the world of film. The theater was a much loved place to escape the monotony of everyday life and find yourself transported to another world. For many, the cinema was a weekly trip to see the latest adventures of some swashbuckling hero, or to watch the great romances of Rhett and Scarlett or Heathcliff and Cathy.

Unfortunately the growth of home-video took its economic toll, and in 1985, the Orpheum was purchased and changed into a music venue. Sadly, although it hosted the likes of Ray Charles, it only lasted a further 5 years before it become a retail space. Today, the plan is to return the cinema to the community by providing a venue for a wide range of  programming, including indie films, documentaries, foreign films, and contemporary films, all of which are currently underrepresented on Cape Cod. It would be a great addition to the attractions and history of Cape Cod if the project proves successful, providing the Cape a venue of character to compete with the sterile and dull contemporary movie theaters that now dot highways and strip malls. The magic that is conjured up by Steven Speilberg, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Mike Leigh, the Coen brothers, Pedro Almodovar, David Lynch, Ang Lee, and others should be shown the respect that its auteurs deserve and viewed in the intimate atmosphere of an old time movie theater – like the Chatham Orpheum!

Plans for restoring the Orpheum, from Friends of the Chatham Orpheum

You can check out progress on the venture or find out how to support or make donations by visiting their website.

We are so thankful to receive reports on what’s going on “down the Cape” from our friend Simon Hunton of the Platinum Pebble Inn in beautiful Harwich, MA. The Inn is offering a special Valentine’s Day deal for customers who book a stay between February 10th and 20th (click here for more information.) Sounds like a great way to get away from it all– and just think, when this project is complete, you can one day add “catch film at the Chatham Orpheum” to your to-do list while on the Cape! 

  5 Replies to “Restoring the Chatham Orpheum Theater”

  1. January 14, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Thanks for featuring us on your site.

  2. January 15, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Thanks for your interest in the Chatham Orpheum Theater. We are holding a press conference on Monday 1/23 and would love for you to come. Contact our PR/Marketing person, Emily Dillon Berry at or call her at 508-740-9771. We’d love to see you.

    We will be showing a film created by Emily, “Living Memories of the Orpheum” Chatham resident Dick Fulcher’s mother, Helen, age 92 was the ticket taker from the 40’s through the late 60’s. Dick was an usher, his brother was the projectionist.Can you imagine? This is where this young Chatham boy grew up, running up and down the aisles of the theater and hanging out in the projection booth.I will have a voice over interview via phone with 92 year old Helen ( who is in Florida) talking about all the things that went on at the was more than movies then too! There will be on camera interviews with Dick, vintage photos and some never before seen 16 mm film of Chatham in the 50’s and 60″s.

    By supporting this cause to bring back the Chatham Orpheum, we are part of a movement to keep history alive. It is the people who live here and visit here who shape our history and our future, let’s join in bringing back the Chatham Orpheum to make new memories for generations to come.

  3. January 15, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Thank you, Union Press and Simon Hunton for getting our message out!
    We are having a press conference on Jan 23 , 2:30 pm at the Chatham Community Center ( 702 Main Street) to give a status report about our funds raised to date as well as latest information about the purchase and renovation of the Chatham Orpheum Theater. We welcome anyone who is in the area to attend and show their support. I will be filming people who wish to share their favorite memory of the Theater! We will also introduce a special Chatham resident who has had a long history with the cinema!

  4. Shelby@UPP
    January 17, 2012 at 8:31 am

    Thank you, Johanna, Naomi and Emily for your great comments and filling us in even more about the Orpheum Theater and your efforts to restore it and make it the centerpiece of Chatham life once again. We wish you the best of luck and we are rooting you on!

  5. January 21, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Emily, Thanks for the invite to the event on 23rd Jan but unfortunately I’ll be out of town. I wish you luck with this great project and hope that you can raise the funds to succeed, especially with this year being Chatham’s 300th birthday!

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